Ruscelli’s Book of Secrets in Context: A Sixteenth-Century Venetian ‘Museum in Motion’
Abstract. This essay discusses the emergence of empirical practices both in houses of craft and medicinal laboratories in Venice during the 1550s, a period in which, with the fortunate collection of the Secrets of Alexis anonymously published by the relentless polymath Girolamo Ruscelli, the Venetian world had firmly sided with the printed word as a strategy of scientific information and communication, progressively pushing manuscript communication to the verge of irrelevance. As I argue, it was a diffuse sense of saturation in the Venetian marketplace of similar ‘galleries’ and ‘theatres’ – a phenomenon traditionally ascribed to the rise of the early modern museum – that gave Ruscelli his reputation as a master of virtual witnessing. I present here some examples of commerce and collecting, translations, and visual adaptations in print as representative of epistemological changes taking place within commercial and long-distance networks, and I examine the type of gathering activities both institutions and people deployed as they extended the technological and cognitive jurisdictions of media within the printing house.
Keywords: early modern museum, Girolamo Ruscelli, global exchange, printed culture, openness vs. secrecy, Secrets of Alexis, sociability, Spain, urban networks, Venice